In the recent debate at UCLA concerning the future of Chicano studies, there are two points on which all agreed: One, that Chicano studies is an increasingly important area of teaching and research. And, two, that given the demographics of Los Angeles and Southern California, UCLA, the premier public research university in the region, should house the nation's leading Chicano studies program.
Many have mischaracterized the discussion as a lack of commitment to Chicano studies at UCLA. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The debate is not whether to build UCLA's existing Chicano studies program into the most outstanding one of its kind in the nation, but how: through its current interdepartmental structure or by creating a separate department.
Chicano studies has existed at UCLA for more than 20 years. Indeed, UCLA was at the forefront among major universities across the nation in establishing a variety of ethnic studies programs during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Three years ago, an academic review concluded that the Chicano studies program at UCLA was not as strong as our students deserved, and we began a series of examinations to determine how to improve it.
The faculty, through the Academic Senate, concluded that the best way to strengthen Chicano studies was through its existing interdepartmental structure. It was not a unanimous view--as recent demonstrations have illustrated--but it was a strong consensus view, and one that was endorsed last month by Chancellor Charles E. Young.
The process we followed to review the program, and the actions we have taken to strengthen it, are entirely consistent with academic practice at UCLA: We have increased faculty hiring, increased resources and encouraged curricular development.
UCLA has a long tradition of fostering interdisciplinary fields of study. All ethnic and area studies programs at UCLA are structured as interdepartmental programs. These include, among others, African-American studies, Asian-American studies, American Indian studies, Indo-European studies, Russian and Eastern European studies, Latin American studies, African studies and Near Eastern studies. Other important fields also are structured this way--comparative literature, communications studies, women's studies and neuroscience, for instance. Given the success of these programs, it would be wrong to conclude that the interdepartmental structure is inherently inferior.
Ethnic and area studies are structured this way because they draw faculty from a wide variety of disciplines: history, literature, linguistics, economics, political science and sociology, among others. Likewise, these programs place ethnic studies-oriented faculty into mainstream academic departments--a hiring pattern that might not otherwise take place if such faculty appointments and areas of study were reserved for a single department. The interdepartment structure allows for the infusion of a critical multicultural perspective throughout UCLA's curriculum in the core departments where most students are enrolled.
In an effort to further enhance these programs, UCLA announced last month a plan to establish for the first time joint faculty appointments between departments and interdepartmental programs. We are confident that this will provide an infusion of faculty to Chicano studies and other ethnic and area studies. We are also forming a task force to ensure that the joint appointment plan is implemented quickly and in the form intended by the chancellor.
While some feel that the creation of a Chicano studies department is an important political symbol, others believe that the more visionary approach is to broaden the world view presented by all the appropriate academic departments at UCLA.